MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Local doctors are encouraging more breast cancer screenings after pandemic shutdowns postponed or even canceled appointments.

Doctors are concerned appointments missed last year will lead to more aggressive stages of cancer when patients get back to the doctor’s office.

“It’s really important for everyone’s health down the line,” said Dr. Emily Touloukian, who is a medical oncologist at Coastal Cancer Center. “We’ve already seen so many more patients presenting at later stages. We don’t want to see that trend continue.”

“Just an hour or 45 minutes of their life can save their life,” said Nan Hasting, a two-time breast cancer survivor. Hasting is also the co-founder of Coping Together, a local cancer support group.

“If I had not gone [to the doctor], I don’t know where I would be because I saw a doctor and she said ‘let’s just do a test,'” Hasting said.

Her cancer had come back a second time in 2011. Now she’s encouraging people to get back to the doctor’s office even after pandemic shutdowns.

A significant decline in mammograms was seen last year. According to the CDC, screenings declined by 87% during April of last year, compared to the previous five-year averages. Local hospitals like Tidelands Health and McLeod Health told News13 appointments, thankfully, are back to normal.

“We’re looking at anywhere from 20%-30% increase in just the number of mammograms we’re doing since 2019,” said Dr. Stuart Poston, radiology director at McLeod Seacost.

McLeod has even extended its hours to catch up on missed appointments. But hesitancy still lingers.

“That new variant has gotten everyone a little bit scared even though they’ve been vaccinated,” said Hasting. “They feel like they’re going into a medical facility, they feel like they’re going to be more apt to be infected.”

Touloukian is on the board of directors of the Community Oncology Association (COA). COA has partnered with CancerCare in hopes to bring confidence to those who are still hesitant to get screened.

They are launching a campaign called “Time to Screen” after seeing a major decline in breast cancer screening last year. The campaign hopes to connect people with a primary care physician and also educate those on the importance of screenings.